The Two Miss Clarks: The Women Who Made an Early Mark on Soccer in the US
Originally posted January 23, 2019, Protagonist told us about Miss Doris Clark of Sacramento, California, who is credited as the first women sanctioned as an official soccer manager by the United States Football Association. However, the story was incomplete and the intent was always to go back and include the other Miss Clark—Miss Helen Clark of Bridgeport Connecticut “who is the Athletic Supervisor for the Board of Education… an enthusiast of athletic sports and a crack basketball player.” We are now in an era when women’s soccer is growing in popularity and women referees are slowly making it to the big stage; first Bibiana Steinhaus in the Bundesliga and most recently Stéphanie Frappart, who just became the first woman to officiate a major men’s European match when she took charge of the 2019 UEFA Supercup. But Helen Clark preceded those efforts by a century and became the first recognized woman referee to officiate senior matches in the United States. As part of our anniversary retrospective, we’ve taken the opportunity to add Helen’s story to Doris’ and rename the piece out of respect to the efforts of both pioneers of women’s soccer.
Miss Helen Clark attended the New Haven Normal School of Gymnastics, where she earned the title “Queen of the whistle” while focusing on conducting baseball, basketball and soccer games. The Normal School eventually became Arnold College in New Haven Connecticut, and has since merged into the University of Bridgeport—who coincidentally won their first NCAA Div II Women’s National Title in 2018. The Bridgeport and Evening Farmer Times from January 20, 1919 tells us she “has the distinguished honor of being the first soccer woman referee in the history of the kicking game in this country.” The article continues to laud her enthusiasm and notes her all around athleticism, “besides coaching teams, conducting gymnasium classes, refereeing and serving as an executive member of the committee on the Bridgeport Public School Soccer League, this woman soccer referee teaches folk dancing at both the Barnum and Huntington Schools.” Despite its perhaps unintentional but nonetheless patronizing tone, the Times does go into depth regarding her earned qualifications and expertise.
“She looks so much like a young miss in her High School days that one would for a moment doubt her capability in leadership, but only for a moment. One need only ask Miss Clark to explain a game of soccer, or watch her conduct a baseball, or basketball game, and the least bit of doubt will disappear.” The Times did give her credit for her knowledge and understanding of the game, but laced with surprise that such a young-looking woman would be able to pull it off. She did have her credentials though, Helen graduated from the Northfield Seminary and then entered the New Haven Normal School where she learned the intricacies of multiple sports—she was so masterful at teaching and refereeing soccer that Joe Booth, then head of the Connecticut Soccer Association and of the Connecticut delegates to the US Football Association Council, witnessed her knowledge of the laws of the sport in action and eventually moved her up to take charge of senior matches in the state. In Spalding’s Soccer Football Guide of 1919-20, she says, “My success as a referee was almost entirely due to the great confidence in me shown by Mr. Joe Booth. After having played, coached, and refereed many games, I now consider soccer the best all-around sport.”
In addition to her academically-earned credentials and meritorious elevation to senior referee in Connecticut, Helen Clark was also awarded a place in the “Knights of Athletic Valor” for her all-around efforts in educating school children in gymnastics and athletics as well as urging the Connecticut Recreation Board to find a suitable place to form basketball teams and a league for interested youths from her gym classes—she was always enthusiastically promoting athletics and healthy living. Helen Clark, the daughter of Connecticut Senator George B. Clark, was ahead of her time and likely learned from her father how to work with committees and boards to accomplish meaningful goals. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was a pioneer for women’s roles in both the world of soccer and for civic engagement.
- Joshua Duder
Doris Clark’s XI
Oak Park was Sacramento’s first suburb, sub-divided and developed in 1887—by the 1910s it was connected directly to Downtown Sacramento by multiple streetcars and attracted the California State Fairgrounds. It became a destination neighborhood by boasting “no city taxes” and had a thriving social scene at the titular park on 8th and Sacramento Boulevard. In 1913, according to Sacramento Union archives, the city appointed a young Miss Doris Clark to become its Student Assistant of Parks, at a payrate of $510 a year.
Scouring the online archives of the Sacramento Union, a defunct local newspaper, shows as many posts about her social activities as it has regarding her successes on the pitch. For the first few years as a Parks Assistant, she oversaw archery events, hiking, track and field, as well as helping to set up popular outdoor music events in Oak Park. Miss Doris Clark even participated in these events from time to time as a member of a quartet. It seems that by late 1915 or early 1916 she had earned herself a promotion and moved north 3 miles to McKinley Park on the corner of Alhambra and McKinley Boulevards.
It was here, at McKinley Park that she really took off and by all accounts, she was very well regarded; even her vacations to Yosemite in 1916 and to Lake Tahoe in 1917, would eventually be newsworthy. However, it was her continued efforts in her local park position that earned her the most attention. Even Spalding’s 1919-20 edition noted her efforts in a piece titled Women Taking Up the Kicking Game, “Soccer Football is about the most strenuous of athletic games. Its forty-five-minute halves are marked by practically continuous action in which every member of each team is on his toes, but that doesn’t seem to keep the girls out. In Sacramento, California, Miss Doris Clark is the manager, and a very successful one, of the McKinley Park Football Club. The only lady manager of a club affiliated with the United States Football Association.”
In their book, Women’s Soccer: The Passionate Game, Barbara Stewart and Helen Stoumbos tell us that “Women were on the periphery of soccer from the beginning. In part, because public schools were for men only, but as well, polite society at the time frowned on women who engaged in strenuous exercise. Doctors believed such activity could injure the reproductive system or simply make women too manly to have children.” From the sources available, there’s no evidence to point to Doris Clark having experience on the pitch but once she moved from Oak Park to McKinley Park, she took up the role of managing the competitive soccer team associated with that neighborhood. Stewart and Stoumbos go on to tell us, “At any time when women’s team sports such as baseball and hockey were being played across America, women’s soccer made inroads. Women were being accepted as part of the game, and several colleges picked it up as a regular sport. In 1920, a woman named Doris Clark became manager of the McKinley Park Football Club in Sacramento. She was the first woman to hold such a position with a sanctioned team.”
From 1916 to 1919, Doris continued to organize seasonal and social events at McKinley Park, and she also managed the young men’s soccer team there. They dominated teams called Acorns, Grass Valley and Rovers—they even travelled to San Francisco to compete in the state cup. One Sacramento Union article from December 19, 1918 tells us, “Despite adverse conditions of weather and facing influenza, soccer is in full swing with spirited contests each Sunday… On Christmas day, the McKinley team will clash with Grass Valley… Miss Doris Clark, who has the local club in charge, expects her boys to win, although, she says the Grass Valley boys can play some football.”
While there are several notes and articles to share from the Sacramento Union’s archives regarding Miss Clark, its important to note that Stewart and Stoumbos’ assertion Clark took up the position in 1920 is incorrect—she resigned in 1919 after six years working between Oak and McKinley Parks. There’s no reason given, but the last piece I can find speaking to Doris’ activities says she “has tended her resignation to superintendent George Kim, to take effect July 20 (1919). Miss Clark has been very active in her work and was manager of the winning soccer team there last season. Before going to McKinley Park she served at Oak Park Playground.” Judging from her vacations spent in the outdoors and her success at throwing events at the parks, I can only venture to guess that she moved on to a similar parks position somewhere else; perhaps someday we’ll find an ending more befitting the first USSF sanctioned woman manager.
- Joshua Duder